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December 27, 2009

Every U.S. President has had to function as both a Knight and a Gardener—it’s the nature of the office—but most Presidents have reputations as functioning primarily as one or the other. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush are known for their Knight orientations in domestic and foreign policy. Bill Clinton, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Barack Obama are primarily known as Gardeners.

Several Presidents have shown great flexibility between the two modes. Abraham Lincoln fought the Civil War (a Knight’s mission) then sought to bind up the nation’s wounds (a Gardener mission). Franklin Delano Roosevelt was known for ending the Depression (a Gardener endeavor) and fighting World War II (a Knight campaign). Harry S Truman was known for dropping atomic bombs to end World War II (arguably one of the most Knight-like acts in human history) but also for passing the legislation necessary for the Marshall Plan, supporting the establishment of the United Nations, and early support for civil rights (all great Gardener endeavors). John F. Kennedy was known both for the New Frontier—and the Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis.

History sometimes judges world leaders on whether their leadership style matches the needs of the time. For example, history remembers British prime minister Neville Chamberlain poorly for his Gardener approach to Nazi aggression—seeking appeasement in the name of preserving a Garden rather than confrontation to protect it. President George W. Bush may be remembered by history poorly for pursuing Knight approaches to resolve political, military and economic problems that may have required Gardener solutions instead.

Matching leadership style to the nature of pressing world problems may become more of a consideration for voters in future political elections.

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